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It’s college commencement season, and NC schools have security in mind this year

UNC Charlotte community grieves the the loss, injury of students

UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.
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UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.

Thousands of college students will graduate from universities across the state over the next couple of weeks, as their proud families and mentors watch the tassels turn.

Law enforcement officers will be watching too, to try to make sure the events are safe, especially in light of Tuesday evening’s fatal shootings in a building at UNC Charlotte. Two students were killed and four others were hurt when a former classmate opened fire with a handgun.

East Carolina University in Greenville has one of the earliest commencements among schools within the University of North Carolina system, with undergraduates receiving their diplomas at 7 p.m. Friday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The school mentioned safety concerns in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“As we move into #ECUGrad weekend, the East Carolina University Police Department wants to assure #PirateNation that campus safety is a top priority,” ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton was quoted as saying in the post.

ECU Police Lt. Chris Sutton added, “We will staff the entire weekend in a way that will allow us to provide the safest environment for our graduates and their families. Our operations will be strategic yet adaptable.”

With football and basketball games, concerts and other events, many campuses are accustomed to hosting big crowds.

UNC schools have specifically trained for emergencies such as the shooting on Tuesday. According to information from the UNC system, UNC Charlotte’s campus police conducted the most training classes in 2018 of any public university in the state with 202, including 51 active-shooter training classes for 1,263 faculty and staff members.

Spokesman Jason Tyson said the UNC system uses funding from campus security fees to fund tabletop and full-scale training, with an effort to hold exercises for at least five UNC campuses per year. The goal is to have at least one full-scale exercise every three years on each of the 16 university campuses and the N.C. School of Math and Science.

This year, he said, Appalachian State, ECU, Fayetteville State, N.C. A&T, N.C. Central, UNC-Chapel Hill and Western Carolina all will receive training funds. UNC held an active-shooter training exercise last month.

Depending on where commencement events are held, public and private universities may also rely on the help of local police and security forces.

This year, in addition to those that will be held on different campuses, some Triangle-area universities will have graduation ceremonies at the PNC Arena or Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, or DPAC in Durham.

Campbell University will hold commencement exercises next week on its Buies Creek campus and also in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium, within the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

“We will award more than 1,300 degrees from Campbell University over the next few weeks,” Britt J. Davis, the university’s vice president for institutional advancement, said in an email Thursday. “It is a top priority to ensure that all university events are safe events. Our campus safety officers and the Harnett County deputies are a steady presence to ensure that all participants and guests are able to enjoy the upcoming ceremonies in a secure environment.”

UNC Charlotte will hold commencement May 10 and 11 at Halton Arena on the university’s campus.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.
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